Aaron Last/Storm Photos
O'Neill's Opportunity Arrives
After waiving rookie guard Kimberly Beck on Saturday, Seattle Storm Head Coach Brian Agler went looking for a perimeter player who could offer the Storm a variety of skills and pick up the spot minutes Beck had played behind starting point guard Sue Bird. As it turned out, Agler didn't have to look very far.
On Tuesday, the Storm signed Edmonds native and University of Washington product Kristen O'Neill to a seven-day contract. Since being a late cut by the Storm during training camp, Agler had been serving as a practice player, biding her time and hoping for the chance that ultimately came her way.
"She's getting her opportunity," Agler said after Tuesday's practice. "We're happy for her and we'll see how it plays out."
"I'm just so grateful for the opportunity," said O'Neill. "I've been working hard, trying to stay positive and keep having faith that it will work out if it's supposed to."
Signed to a training-camp contract and invited to camp, O'Neill ended up lasting until two days before the Storm's season opener. Her positive attitude, indefatigable work ethic and ability to play multiple positions on the perimeter opened up eyes in camp. Given O'Neill's local ties, it made sense for the Storm to continue the relationship with her. Meanwhile, even after being waived, O'Neill looked at the positive side of her situation.
"When I first got the news that I'd been waived, it was tough, but instead of focusing on what I'd lost I wanted to focus on what I gained - a great opportunity to get better," she said. "That's exactly what I did. I looked at this as a summer internship to my dream job and put in as many hours as I could every day."
O'Neill said she made the Storm her "9-to-5," and that's only a slight exaggeration. She arrived early and stayed well after practice on the floor daily, honing her jump shot. Most of the time, she joined the team's mostly-male practice squad, working against the Storm players who had been her teammates during training camp. At times, she joined them for drills or scrimmages when the starters got the day off.
When the Storm played at KeyArena, O'Neill was there in the crowd.
Watching, she said, "Was tough at first. Especially Opening Night because it was so recent after I'd been waived. It was tough for me because I was so proud of my teammates but I wanted to be out there so bad. Then, after that, I wouldn't say it was easy sitting in the stands, but I'm so proud of these girls and I loved watching them play."
Agler encouraged O'Neill to keep working, confident her chance would come, even if it did not happen this season. When the Storm waived Beck Saturday to avoid having to guarantee her contract for the remainder of the season, that opportunity arose. Agler considered a handful of players but felt like O'Neill was the right fit and would help add to the blue-collar mentality he's been working to encourage.
"We feel like she's a real versatile-type player and has, obviously, a tremendous attitude and work ethic," he said. "That kind of thing is contagious. I think with the addition of her and Camille (Little), they sort of bring that element of toughness and hard work and desire and passion. Not that we didn't have that, but I don't think you can ever have enough of those people. That's what I like about Kristen."
What remains to be seen is how the Storm will use O'Neill. She figures to help the team's ballhandling on the perimeter. Agler can see her helping out Tanisha Wright in backing up Bird, or playing alongside Wright in the backcourt.
"I really don't know (about her role) other than I see her playing some minutes behind Sue," he said. "I see her possibly playing some minutes when T goes to the point, giving T another ballhandler out there with her. It will be that kind of role." O'Neill, who played point guard while growing up before being moved around to multiple positions while at UW, is comfortable at any position on the perimeter.
"I can play the one, two or three," she said. "I'll play anywhere. I love just to be on the court. To be a part of this team and to continue getting better and helping the team get better, I'm really grateful for the opportunity."
A couple of days ago, O'Neill had begun to get the idea that she might be in line for a seven-day contract. Knowing the way the WNBA can operate as a business, she didn't get her hopes up before officially signing with the Storm this morning. Her family had an idea what might be in store, but was still thrilled to hear the news this morning.
"They were really excited," said O'Neill. "I told my high school and college coaches (Karen Blair and June Daugherty) - the people that have helped me get here. I'm so grateful and I've been blessed to have so many amazing people in my life and I wouldn't be where I am without them."
Where she is, for now, is playing in the WNBA for her hometown team. O'Neill wouldn't want to be anywhere else.